Speech of Ambassador Vlahutin to the National Council of European Integration
Tirana, 27/03/2018 - 11:33, UNIQUE ID: 180327_4
Speeches of the Ambassador
Dear Minister, dear Members of the National Council of European Integration,
Since the adoption of the EU Strategy for the Western Balkans in February, we have already discussed the important political messages it sends.
The Strategy gives a clear and unequivocal perspective for the EU integration of the region. It seeks to fuel additional energy in addressing serious systemic challenges, the Rule of law, including fight against corruption and organized crime, respect for fundamental rights, good governance and strengthening of democratic institutions.
Strategy reaffirms the EU's determination to walk the path together and to enhance the European Union's engagement with the WB partners.
And this is what I would like to address today: the specific mechanisms through which the EU supports this ambitious agenda. The Commission foresees increased participation of the Western Balkans in informal Councils as well as regular Ministerial level contacts, including at summit level. The Commission will also include the Western Balkans in technical committees and Commission working groups. Enhanced participation will also be made possible in existing EU programs and networks. It is extremely important that we create opportunities for greater exchange and inclusiveness.
This, and the connectivity agenda, will be the focus of the Western Balkans summit in Sofia in May 2018. Last week the Council stated that it looks forward to "launching concrete and visible initiatives to improve the physical and human connectivity in the region and with the EU", in addition to discussing joint responses to shared challenges such as security and migration.
It is important that Albania takes full advantage and shows utmost commitment to such opportunities for early alignment, integration and support.
There are six initiatives that support a number of priorities for the region.
(1) the rule of law. Rule of law is the key benchmark against which the prospects of an aspirant country is judged by Member States. New opportunities are offered by the Strategy towards:
introducing trial monitoring in the field of serious corruption and organized crime
increased cooperation with relevant EU agencies
setting up more Joint Investigation Teams between Albania and Member States, and Albania and other countries of the region. This is already happening, and providing results.
more detailed rule of law assessments
extended advisory missions
more systematic, case-based peer-reviews
On (2) security and migration, specific initiatives are foreseen for enhancement of law enforcement cooperation and information sharing at national and at regional level among Western Balkan partners. There will be further efforts for strengthened expertise, dialogue and exchange as regards counter-terrorism and preventing violent extremism. The Commission also aims to create and coordination an EU inter-agency Task Force, in line with their respective mandates.
(3) socio-economic development - The EU will introduce a new guarantee scheme to boost private investment in the region, complementary to development and innovation funds. It will seek to boost education and social sector support, create even more mobility in vocational education and training, and include the region in EU roaming and access to broadband. The EU will seek further integration into the European research area, including in the context of Horizon 2020. Just as importantly, it will further facilitate EU-Western Balkans trade.
(4) Connectivity - The Western Balkans are geographically surrounded by EU Member States. This makes it a political priority to connect infrastructure and to accelerate the development of interconnected trans-European networks in the fields of transport, energy and digital services. This will specifically mean inclusion in transport and energy EU decision making processes, participation in the EU Rail Agency, and major boosting of infrastructure funding through the Western Balkans Investment Fund (WBIF).
Last week at the European Parliament High representative and Vice President of the Commission Federica Mogherini reiterated that that Albania has a real and immediate opportunity of moving forward to opening accession negotiations. Immense work has been done with justice reform and we are seeing results already. Albania must move on in a steady and firm pace to show continued results on all five key priorities.
The months ahead will be intense and we are ambitious. We will have the progress scorecards of country reports in April, the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Sofia in May, and ultimately a European Council meeting in June.
The role of the parliament will be even more important once accession talks are launched. Rather than a gift, accession talks represent an acceleration of efforts, more scrutiny and intrusion. The Committee on EU Integration and the National Council on EU integration will be central to that process.
We therefore welcome discussions, and especially proposals from civil society on ways to boost their involvement and the work of the National Council overall: to support true dialogue on the society, consensus on things most important to Albania, to improve the monitoring and oversight of the accession process, but also to strengthen the Council's thematic capacities and focus.